By Jill Adair
Find something you are passionate about. Is it possible?
Of course it is, according to a variety of people and volunteers who are involved in local charities and Mesa nonprofits.
“What matters is your passion,” says Patti Oskvarek, a Mesa Leadership participant and employee with the city of Mesa. “If you don’t have passion, then why are you here?”
Oskvarek says that has been impressed upon her mind as she and other class members have toured facilities during the last few weeks and heard from volunteers who spoke to the class during the second session of the leadership program Sept. 11.
Recent tours included AZBrainfood, a nonprofit organization that packs bags of food each week for needy elementary students to take home over the weekend; Helen’s Hope Chest, which is part of Mesa United Way and provides clothing and other essentials to local foster and kincare children; United Food Bank, that serves Mesa residents and much of eastern Arizona with around 51,00 meals each day; and the Grant Woods – Mesa Branch of the East Valley Boys and Girls Clubs, a facility in central Mesa that serves neighboring children with afterschool and summer programs and promotes the Mesa Arts Academy charter school.
All of these organizations are run by passionate, dedicated people who are committed to helping others.
Many are volunteers.
“It’s impressive how much can be done by volunteers,” says Wayne LaMarre, a leadership participant and another city of Mesa employee.
LaMarre said he signed up for the leadership class this year because he wants to learn more about the city he works in.
“It has really opened my eyes,” he says.
Oskvarek and LaMarre are two of 26 class members in this year’s Mesa Leadership Program, which seeks to get local residents more involved in the city by making them more aware of the challenges and opportunities in their community.
Leadership classes are held once a month in all-day seminars August through April and a variety of tours are scheduled on weekdays and Saturdays. Students are encouraged to attend as many tours as possible.
The second class, which was held Sept. 11 at Benedictine University in downtown Mesa, focused on diversity, social services and advocacy.
Vice Mayor Dennis Kavanaugh spoke about his work as an advocate of diversity that began shortly after he was elected to city council in 2008, when he pushed for domestic partner healthcare benefits and visitation rights.
He said proposing and garnering support for new policy takes determination and patience.
“You have to understand what the opposition says and why,” he says. “It takes time.”
He encouraged members of the leadership class to propose ideas to elected officials and then advocate for them.
“Of course, you have to understand budget issues,” he says.
Class members also toured the Benedictine University, which is in its third year in Mesa.
Senior Administrator Jo Wilson explained that under the direction of former Mayor Scott Smith, liberal arts colleges around the country were invited to consider Mesa as a location and Benedictine was one of four that came to the area.
The university, located at Hibbert and Main Street, has 335 undergraduate and graduate students this year and nearly half are minorities. An 18-month MBA degree is offered at an introductory tuition rate of $10,000.
“Bringing this institution here really did serve the community,” says Wilson.
She explained that she thought she was retiring after a long career with Mesa Community College when Benedictine officials tapped her for their new branch campus.
“Always take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to you,” she says. “You’ll never know where they will take you.”
An afternoon social services panel included Dr. Michael Fleming, board member for Paz De Cristo and the human resources manager for St. Vincent de Paul, and Angela Booker, president of Mesa Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Committee. Each spoke of their journey to being involved in their communities through volunteer opportunities.
Fleming said he retired from Banner Health when he was asked to help at Paz de Cristo, which feeds about 250 individuals nightly at the outreach center, 424 W. Broadway Road, Mesa.
One opportunity led to another and he found himself busy again.
“It’s amazing how much energy you find when you believe in the mission,” he says.
Booker says her organization helps “foster, promote and sustain social justice” in the community and hosts the annual MLK Jr. Day parade and festival.
“Find something you would do for free, or you would do when you retire, or what you’d do on your deathbed, and that’s the thing you should go for,” says Booker. “Find what you’re passionate about and go for it.”